Ma Movie Review

The more I thought about it, Ma shares a bit in common with Tate Taylor’s predecessor  The Girl on the Train in positive and negative ways. They’re both headlined by impressive female performers – Emily Blunt in Train and Octavia Spencer here. And both are hindered by serious messaging tones in a genre that should celebrate its own trashiness. That problem is less pronounced in Ma, but it rears its head enough to make an impact.

The opening finds high school student Maggie (Diana Silvers, recently seen as an object of Kaitlyn Dever’s affection in Booksmart) transplanted to a sleepy small town. Her single mom (Juliette Lewis) is frequently off working at a casino. There’s nothing much to do except find fields to guzzle beer and smoke weed. Maggie finds some friends, including the dreamy Andy (Corey Fogelmanis) and party monster Haley (McKaley Miller). There’s a couple underwritten others who fit various stereotypes. The group needs town elders to buy them the booze and that’s where Spencer’s Sue Ann comes in.

She’s a veterinary technician who’s quite bad at her job. Her boss is played in a small role by Allison Janney, a staple of Taylor’s filmography. Luckily for the kids, she’s skilled at buying their intoxicants. Sue Ann, deemed Ma by the youngsters, befriends them and allows her basement to be the drinking spot. It doesn’t take long for Maggie and company to realize she’s a little too creepily eager to play a part in their lives.

Ma works best early when the motives of Ma are unclear. Her fascination with Andy, her zeal for bumping 70s funk hits amongst a swarm of underage students, and her endless texts and Insta videos to her new buddies set up an effective and pending sense of doom. Without going into serious spoiler territory, Ma’s bizarre behavior is based in her own upbringing and it’s told in flashback sequences. This is where explanatory content didn’t feel totally necessary. The screenplay by Scotty Landes rather clumsily attempts to insert commentary on bullying and harassment. It’s a delicate balance that never quite levels out.

Spencer is great as always and it is fun (again, especially early) to see her play against type. We also have Luke Evans as Andy’s smarmy father who plays a key role in Sue Ann’s past and Missi Pyle as his tawdry girlfriend. Despite some freaky moments, Ma is a mixed bag as we watch this girl on the crazy train go off the rails.

**1/2 (out of four)

Don’t Let Go Box Office Prediction

Blumhouse Productions hopes to have a sleeper hit on their hands over Labor Day weekend with Don’t Let Go. The supernatural thriller finds David Oyelowo attempting to retroactively prevent the death of loved ones. Jacob Aaron Estes directs with a supporting cast including Storm Reid, Bryon Mann, Mykelti Williamson, Alfred Molina, and Brian Tyree Henry.

The pic premiered eight months ago at the Sundance Film Festival to mixed reaction. Its Rotten Tomatoes score is at 47%. That’s not a great number to generate buzz and Go appears to be lacking it. While it’s a little risky to underestimate Blumhouse, the Labor Day release date isn’t exactly a vote of confidence.

I’ll say this doesn’t manage to achieve double digits over the four day holiday weekend. Mid single digits is possibly where this goes.

Don’t Let Go opening weekend prediction: $4.5 million (Friday to Monday estimate)

Us Movie Review

Any fears of a sophomore slide are quickly dispelled by we the audience in Us, Jordan Peele’s follow-up to his blockbuster cultural milestone Get Out from 2017. That Oscar nominated debut defied genre. Yes, it was sort of a horror flick but it brought in a racial subtext that got crowds talking. I believe Get Out gets better with every viewing and I suspect this will too.

Us, in some respects, is more of a traditional fright fest in comparison to the auteur’s first feature. There’s more jump scares, and more overall freak out moments. Yet there’s a whole lot of allegorical treatment on (yes) race, but also class and the concept of nature vs. nurture. Peele’s second pic furthers the notion that he’s an immensely talented filmmaker with lots to say. Us also leaves more up for interpretation than Get Out. It’s messier and that’s not really a criticism.

Lupita Nyong’o is Adelaide, the matriarch of the Wilson family. She’s married to the slightly goofy Gabe (Winston Duke) with two young children Zora and Jason (Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex). We first meet Adelaide in flashback circa 1986 as a little girl accompanying her parents to the beach in Santa Cruz. She wanders into a funhouse where she encounters a hall of mirrors. Instead of only seeing her reflection, she encounters her scary doppelgänger. The event literally leaves her speechless for an extended period of time.

We flash forward to over three decades later with her brood and they’re vacationing at their lake house in the same area. She’s talking now and has tried her best to repress that childhood event. The family meets up with their wealthy, boozy, and snobby friends (Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker) at the same beach. Soon enough, Adelaide is unable to bury what happened in 1986.

It turns out that doppelgänger (named Red) is back and she brings along sadistic doubles of the whole family to terrorize them. Red (naturally also played by Nyong’o) speaks in a genuinely hair raising whisper. Referred to as The Tethered, the versions of Gabe and the two children are also creepy and with murder on their minds. This is the section of the film where the gory action kicks into overdrive.

Without spoiling the rest, Us goes about answering the questions of why characters have these bloodthirsty counterparts. It’s horror, it’s government conspiracy, it’s very funny at times. The use of music (from the terrific Mike Gioulakis score to inventive spins of classic hip hop hits “I Got 5 On It” and “F*** The Police”) is expertly placed.

Lupita Nyong’o, in her dual role, is terrific. Switching between a mom in protection mode of her rather normal family to a mom orchestrating that normal family’s demise, it’s quite a role to pull off and she certainly does. Actors in this genre rarely get awards attention and the Supporting Actress winner from 12 Years a Slave deserves it. Duke (and Moss and Heidecker) bring the comic relief.

In some respects, I look at Us as the Unbreakable for Peele if Get Out is his The Sixth Sense. Why the M. Night Shyamalan comparison? Sixth Sense was a massive hit that also nabbed a Best Picture nod. Unbreakable was his breathlessly awaited next movie. It was appreciated by some and confounded others by not being as easily accessible. Those same issues apply to Us. However, just as the reputation for Unbreakable grew with time, I suspect that will hold true for Peele’s second turn. I don’t know if I’d say Us quite matches the potency of Get Out, but I think it could on subsequent screenings. For my first viewing, it definitely provided a whole lot to appreciate as this director continues to show he’s a force behind the camera.

***1/2 (out of four)

Ma Box Office Prediction

Blumhouse Productions continues its output of ultra low-budget horror pics that could see impressive returns next weekend with the release of Ma. Made for a tiny reported budget of $5 million, Oscar winner Octavia Spencer is cast as a homicidal veterinary aide terrorizing a group of teens. Ma reunites its star with her director from The Help, Tate Taylor (whose last effort was The Girl on the Train). Costars include Juliette Lewis, Diana Silvers, Luke Evans, McKaley Miller, and Missi Pyle.

The studio has been down this road before with blockbuster efforts like Get Out and Happy Death Day. I don’t expect Ma to reach their levels. While there’s no direct genre competition, Godzilla: King of the Monsters and Rocketman could divert eyeballs elsewhere. Yet this could certainly triple or quadruple its budget out of the gate with an African-American audience and a teenage crowd.

Ma opening weekend prediction: $17.2 million

For my Godzilla: King of the Monsters prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/05/23/godzilla-king-of-the-monsters-box-office-prediction/

For my Rocketman prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/05/23/rocketman-box-office-prediction/

Happy Death Day 2U Movie Review

Happy Death Day 2U gets some props for going into totally different territories as it follows up on the surprise 2017 hit. The original had a simple concept – mix Groundhog Day with a slasher flick. It worked better than it should have with a stellar performance from Jessica Rothe as the bratty day repeater named Tree. Part 1 developed some layers to her character that are important in the sequel. I didn’t expect part 2 to mostly ditch the slasher concept in favor of science fiction. There’s also slapstick comedy with a supporting player pretending to be a blind French woman.

Horror franchises are usually more than happy to repeat themselves. I expected the same here, especially in a movie about repeating yourself over and over. Happy Death Day 2U doesn’t do that. We are reminded about Tree’s earlier predicament. She woke up on the same Monday in the dorm room of Carter (Israel Broussard), hung over and confused. Things got more baffling when it happened again and again. There was no Sonny and Cher music, but you get the gist. The original eventually revealed her roommate was offing her. She also had time to fall in love with Carter.

The sequel finds Carter’s roommate (Phi Vu) experiencing his own demise and deja vu. He has built a quantum reactor in science class with his nerdy schoolmates and it turns out they get an A+. Unfortunately for Tree, it means she begins to travel back to the manic and murderous Mondays yet again.

The jump scares and other slasher elements are in short supply. Instead we get some scientific jargon (there’s more Back to the Future references than anything with Bill Murray) and multiverse chatter. Tree’s deceased mom could be back in a dimension. Her roommate that terrorized her in the baby face mask on the first day may not be bad after all.

Part 1 and II might be different in tone, but they share certain things. Rothe’s performance is comedic and satisfying and she shines even more this time around. There are moments of well placed humor. There’s a bit involving skydiving that elicited genuine laughter. Not all the similarities are positive. This, too, runs out of gas before the running time has elapsed. The plot gradually becomes a secondary consideration. I found myself not really caring at all about who was behind the mayhem at the end of the long day. That said, writer/director Christopher Landon deserves some credit for making this day we’ve already experienced one of an alternative genre.

**1/2 (out of four)

Us Box Office Prediction

Blogger’s Note (03/19/19): The upgrade has happened from $48.8 million to $56.8 million

Next weekend we will find out if lightning strikes again for director Jordan Peele with the release of Us. The horror pic is Peele’s eagerly awaited sophomore effort and follow-up to his 2017 debut Get Out. That film rode a cultural wave of excitement and critical raves that resulted in a Best Picture nomination and an Oscar for Peele for his original screenplay.

Perhaps not since M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable (his feature after The Sixth Sense) have we seen a movie that can sold mostly on “from the director of…”. Us centers on a family being terrorized by a brood that appears to be different versions of themselves. The cast includes Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss, and Tim Heidecker.

Any fears of a sophomore slump were eliminated this past weekend when Us screened at South by Southwest. Reviews are strong with 100% currently on Rotten Tomatoes. Get Out exceeded opening weekend projections two years ago when it made $33 million for its start and legged out considerably to $176 million.

Us doesn’t have the benefit of unknown expectations. Peele’s name and some seriously effective trailers have prognosticators thinking this will exceed the first weekend of Get Out. Whether it experiences the smallish declines from weekend to weekend is a better question as Us should be more front-loaded with its earnings.

I’ll say mid to high 40s is where this lands with $50 million certainly being a possibility.

Us opening weekend prediction: $56.8 million

Happy Death Day 2U Box Office Prediction

Blumhouse looks to continue its impressive streak of low-budget slasher pics that turn hefty profits with the release of sequel Happy Death Day 2U next Wednesday. Christopher Landon is back in the director’s chair along with returning cast members Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, and Ruby Modine, in addition to Life of Pi star Suraj Sharma.

In October 2017, Happy Death Day took its Groundhog Day meets the horror genre to solid box office results. It made $26 million for the opening weekend as its overall haul was front loaded (final gross was $55 million).

Part 2 might premiere with less for the traditional weekend, but the Wednesday debut  and following four-day President’s Day frame could boost the six-day to a high 20s overall take.

Happy Death Day 2U opening weekend prediction: $22 million (Friday to Monday); $28.6 million (Wednesday to Monday)

For my Alita: Battle Angel prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/02/06/alita-battle-angel-box-office-prediction/

For my Isn’t It Romantic prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/02/07/isnt-it-romantic-box-office-prediction/